Sinema speech turbocharges primary challenge buzz

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Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) had hardly finished throwing cold water on President Joe Biden’s voting rights push on Thursday when Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.) headed to the House floor to deliver a speech of his own.

“Today the House showed where it stands. We won’t shrink from protecting our democracy and the voting rights of all Americans. It’s past time for the U.S. Senate and Sen. Sinema to do the same,” Gallego said during his speech, after the House passed a voting bill and Sinema said she would not support changing Senate rules to pass it in the chamber.

It’s no coincidence Gallego called out his state’s senior senator by name. The midterm elections are still 10 months away, but some Arizona Democrats are already living in 2024, when Sinema is up for reelection. Gallego has been floated as a potential Sinema primary challenger, especially as she enrages progressives with her reluctance to change Senate rules or eliminate the filibuster.

Sinema’s speech added fuel to the fire. The Primary Sinema PAC, dedicated to knocking her out of office in 2024, told Morning Score it was on track to hit its largest fundraising day ever on Thursday, although a spokesperson did not say how much money it actually raised after her speech.

Overall, the PAC has raised $250,000 since it launched at the end of September, the group shared first with Score. Primary Sinema PAC received an additional $400,000 in seed money from the progressive donor group Way to Win. The PAC also released a memo Thursday claiming there is “no excuse for Sinema’s obstruction.” (The money it raises doesn’t go to a specific candidate, but rather “will go to support grassroots groups on the ground in Arizona who are leading the fight to hold Sinema accountable,” according to its website.)

Meanwhile, another effort to draft Gallego into the Senate race says it saw a fundraising bump after Sinema’s and Gallego’s speeches. The Run Ruben Run draft committee saw three times the number of contributions it had averaged over the last month, and four times its daily average, but declined to share any dollar amounts.

Gallego himself has taken steps toward running in recent months, such as hiring fundraiser Taylor Hennings, consulting with national donors and conducting polling. Currently holding a safe House seat in Phoenix, Gallego has had little incentive to raise money in the past; he only had $786,000 in campaign cash on hand at the end of last September, his most recent disclosure. Sinema had $4.5 million in her war chest as of Sept. 30.

Sinema’s and Gallego’s campaigns did not respond to a request for comment.

Sinema caught some heat Thursday from the leader of her state’s Democratic party. “We are disappointed to say the least that Senator Sinema has chosen to protect an antiquated rule over her constituents,” Arizona state Democratic Party chair Raquel Terán said in a statement.

The Arizona lawmaker could be vulnerable to a primary challenge. A Data For Progress poll conducted in October found 70 percent of likely Arizona Democratic primary voters disapproved of Sinema’s job performance, while only 25 percent approved.

The Sinema fallout wasn’t limited to Arizona. Some liberal Senate candidates in other states, like Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and former Rep. Abby Finkenauer of Iowa, used Sinema’s speech to tout their own progressives bonafides. Fetterman said in a statement that “Democrats need to vote like Democrats,” while Finkenauer called Sinema a “sellout.”

Tara Palmeri contributed to this report.

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